On Prison Ink Both Good and Bad but Mostly Bad
(Part 1 by Polish Avenger)

Polish Avenger – Formerly an undergraduate in software engineering, he was sentenced to 25 years because his friend was shot dead during a burglary, and in Arizona if a burglar gets killed then the accomplices get 25 year sentences.

Prisoners are a heavily tattooed bunch. Several reasons include:

- work done in here is a lot cheaper – a couple of packs of smokes versus thousands of dollars out there
- we can express individuality through rebellion and unique markings – cue Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner, “I am not a number. I am a free man!”
- we join gangs and have to show how down we are
- we get bored and have nothing better to do

It’s a shame that so much prison work sucks. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but by and large most of it is crappy. Most doesn’t start that way. Guys spend literally hundreds of hours under the artist’s needle, drawing some fantastically intricate and well-shaded designs. Just doing one shoulder to wrist can run upwards of 20 hours, depending on the design and artist. It’ll look great for about two years, after which the whole thing will turn blue and smear together.

A large part of the problem is the ink. Since they won’t sell us real tattoo ink we must rely on homebrewed versions. The basic recipe is to find some plastic (dominoes, chess pieces, etc.) or a tub of hair grease, light it ablaze and capture the resulting soot. Now those of you with a chemistry background will know that burning said compounds produces a whole range of delightfully toxic cancer-causing byproducts. So what to do with these byproducts, i.e. soot? What else, inject them into your skin! I honestly don’t know if inked-up cons have higher cancer rates – that would be an interesting medical study.
Other sources of ink I’ve seen over the years have included inkjet cartridges and even copier toner powder. We can only imagine the chemical soup in that stuff. Ah, well. The important thing is Get the tattoo done no matter what!

After all that, the curious thing is that once all the endless, agonizing hours are put in, nobody really looks at them any more. Maybe in here, we’re all so used to nearly everyone being “slung down” that we hardly notice. Hell, when I first came in it was a bit of a shock, especially seeing the fellows with the fully decorated shaved head and/or face. I’d think, Geez, that dude is hardcore! Now it doesn’t even warrant a second glance. About the only similar reaction today is seeing someone with no tattoos – and the thought is, Geez, what a sissy.

Click here for Polisher Avenger’s first blog.

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Shaun P. Attwood


leigh said...

jesus christ! let's hope that this need to get inked up doesn't lead to health problems! the prison system surely isn't going to provide excellent health care (or even just health care worth mentioning). i was only thinking of how risky it was regarding hepititis and other blood borne stuff. oh goodness. now that's one more thing to worry about i suppose...

Anonymous said...

do you feel peer pressure to get tattoos?


Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

The other issue is, the work is done with homemade "guns" or whatever is handy.

Anonymous said...

On the other side of that post, I have ink that was done inside with smuggled india ink. I have about 30 hours of ink, mostly gang/San Diego tattoos, but none of my tattoos are ugly. over 5 years old and still looking fresh. And many inmates are in this category. True, I have seen an untold number of ugly tattoos, but if you get a homeboy who had artistic talent on the outside, an insider who can smuggle in the right hardware (ink and fresh guitar strings), the tattoos come out pretty good. Just my input. -Jose in San Diego.

Briandi said...

My husband has a tattoo that I refer to as his "Pamela Anderson tattoo" (the barbed wire) although, he received it years ago while in prison, it has got to be the best shading, artwork and intricate detail I have ever seen in a tattoo. It was done the soot and guitar string method...very cool and ingenious I think! Some of the most talented artists are in prison.

leigh said...

please don't think i mean any disrespect for those who have or do tattoos while in prisons or jails! they're SO creative in what they figure out can be used, not to mention how talented they are!

Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

My son wanted to know-how are colored inks made? He knows about the soot, but what about pigments? He guessed colored pencils or oil pastels if you can get them.

Andi said...

Great post! I, too, indulged in a prison tattoo while I was in, more or less to say I did. I figured if I was going to be there, damn it, I was going to have the full experience. It's small, on my right ankle and is the Chinese symbol for 'strength'. One of the girls I was in with had access to some type of pen - not a ball point or gel pen, some other kind where you can see the liquid. Anyway, not even three months into it, it began to fade and nearly disappeared. When I got out of prison, I went to a tattoo artist and he was able to find the outline and recreate it for me. I always wonder how poisoned I am, but I'm still glad I got it. It has a lot of meaning behind it and means a lot more to me than the professional tattoo I had done 13 years ago.